An irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is a trust that can’t be rescinded, amended, or modified after it’s created. ILITs are made with a life insurance policy as the asset owned by the trust. Once the grantor places property or life insurance death benefits into the trust, she can’t alter the terms of the trust or reclaim any of the properties held by it.
As an alternative to designating an individual beneficiary, ILITs offer several legal and financial advantages to heirs. This includes favorable tax treatment, asset protection, and the assurance that the benefits will be used in a manner concurrent with the benefactor's wishes.
Investopedia’s recent article, “When Is It a Good Idea to Use ILIT Trust?” says that there are several advantages to ILITs, including state tax considerations, the protection of fiscally-careless beneficiaries from squandering their payouts and the prevention of courts and creditors from accessing the assets.
An ILIT is often used to set aside assets for certain purposes, like paying estate taxes, because these assets themselves aren’t taxable. To do this, the selected assets must be moved into the life insurance trust at least three years before they’re used. If you use a qualified estate planning attorney to create this, the death benefits paid to the ILIT won’t be included in the gross estate of the insured. This is different than when life insurance death benefits are paid to an individual, because the proceeds are included in the taxable estate of the decedent.
The ILIT also has asset protection for the beneficiaries, if they are involved in a lawsuit. That’s because ILITs aren’t considered to be owned by the beneficiaries. This makes it hard for courts to connect the assets to the beneficiary, making them nearly impossible for creditors to access.
There are some drawbacks to using an ILIT, so carefully consider the pros and cons of creating one. Changes to an ILIT can only be made by the beneficiaries. As a result, the benefactor loses control of the assets prior to death. ILIT assets also are not taxed as part of the estate, but they are taxed as part of the beneficiaries' estates, leaving a bigger tax burden to their descendants.
Preparing an ILIT is a sophisticated matter, with strict guidelines that must be followed to ensure that it conforms with IRS guidelines. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure that it is prepared properly, and that it aligns with your overall estate plan.